As a synthesizer riff filled the room at the White Rabbit Cabaret, the spirit of the 1980s bounded onto the stage.
Dressed in blue cutoff denim vest decorated in Voltron, a fanny pack and garish gold shoes, Andy D throttled into his weird brand of party dance rap. His rat-tail haircut flipped back and forth as he gyrated and bounced through the small Indianapolis club.
A disco ball threw glittering light above his head, the halo he sings about on his song “Angels of the Dancefloor.”
On stage, Andy D sings frantic, all-over-the-place songs about love, unicorns, magic, rainbows and Vikings. His ’80s-inspired music blends soul, rap and rock, and his outsized personality has won fans across the country, including collaborators Andrew W.K. and Electric Six.
Go See Andy D
Real name: Andy Duncan
Education: Graduated in 2000 from Greenwood Community High School; double-majored in anthropology and religious studies at New York University
Family: Wife, Victoria
Upcoming area shows
Aug. 9: 9 p.m., The Root Cellar, 108 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington
Aug. 17: 8 p.m., Gen Con, with Five Year Mission; Westin Hotel ballroom, 50 S. Capital Ave., Indianapolis, admission $6.
When asked what it is about Andy D that draws such a crowd, Electric Six lead singer Dick Valentine pointed to the whole package — his look, his energy and his stage presence.
“I mean — just look at him,” Valentine said.
But behind the bravado, Andy D is really Greenwood resident Andy Duncan. Though at first glance his act may seem like a parody of the Decade of Decadence, it’s simply an extension of his mantra to be himself.
“I look the way I do and dress the way I do because I just want to be more awesome. That’s what this looks like. This is what my 8-year-old self would be proud of,” he said.
Some people have scoffed at his retro look, dismissing someone who was a child for most of the 1980s as glamorizing a not-so-great chapter in American culture.
But Duncan prefers to look at it a different way. He’s not calling for a return to the Reagan years so much as borrowing the positive elements of its music here in the present.
“I don’t operate with nostalgia. I just like what I like. I don’t want to go back to the ’80s, I want to go to the future,” he said. “I like that we’re in a culture where that I have access to things that were recorded in the ’60s or ’70s or ’80s and can take from that.”
Of particular interest is an obscure genre of music that was popular at the time — Latin freestyle. Popularized by artists such as Taylor Dayne and Expose, it used synthesizers to create the effect of Afro-Cuban horns and rhythms.
Duncan first started listening to music as this wave spread across the airwaves, and it underlies much of his current work.
“That was a really adventurous time for positive music — hip-hop like Salt-n-Pepa and Arrested Development. Everyone was wearing really bright colors and had asymmetrical haircuts,” he said. “I love the weird styles.”
Even after the fashion and music gave way to the morose, heady grunge years, Duncan decided he would stay true to the style that was more fitting of his personality.
“I want to have a rat tail, and I want to have lines in my head. I want to grow a mustache. It all became this gestaltic being that I wanted to be,” he said. “I’m an adult, and no one could tell me that I couldn’t do it.”
‘Clever and funny’
His songs are a mix of old-school rap boasting and off-
Duncan’s most recent release, “Warcries,” tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where robots and mutants fight it out. “Warriors of partying” travel through time to teach them how to dance.
Music has been Duncan’s preferred method of communication since he was a teenager. While attending Greenwood Community High School in the late 1990s, he and his friends formed a band called Wemmick, described as a “more metal version of Primus,” he said.
After graduating from Greenwood in 2000, he went to New York University to study writing. Plugged into the eclectic New York music scene, Duncan became heavily involved with noise rock that challenged listeners to make it through a song.
“We got into some really obnoxious, experimental volume music,” he said. “I decided the next type of music that I would do would be as accessible as possible, verses and choruses, clever and funny.”
The Andy D persona was a reaction to the heavy toll that noise rock can take on a listener. Drawn to pop acts such as Prince, he started writing music with danceable riffs, fun-loving lyrics and catchy beats.
Duncan determined he wasn’t a very good singer, so he turned to rapping, a la the Beastie Boys, to get his message across.
The first song he wrote was an ode to hard living and partying all night called, “Rockslow.” From that point, he started putting together synthesizer-heavy rap songs.
He found a ready and willing audience in New York City hungry for this joyous, nostalgic, bombastic music.
“All lot of people at shows were friends, but a lot weren’t. People just seemed to dig this. I was winning people over at the few shows I was doing,” he said.
Around 2008, Duncan moved back to Indiana. In the college bars of Bloomington, his following grew. People were filling up shows and selling out on weekends, which validated Duncan’s career direction.
“If people didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be doing it. I would have moved on. But they still liked enough to give it a shot,” he said.
Since that time, he’s been working tirelessly to build the brand. Duncan performs almost every weekend, traveling as far away as California, Washington, D.C., and Florida to do shows.
With his wife, Victoria, in the band, he doesn’t have to upset his personal life to pursue his professional goals. For the first time this past year, they have been able to make their living solely on their music, without any side jobs.
Their success has been in part due to a tight relationship with Detroit party rockers Electric Six, who have had Andy D open for them multiple times and recording on his albums.
Andy D and his entourage will be opening for the band on its upcoming European tour. After establishing a fan base in the U.S., Duncan is looking forward to bringing his music to the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.
“We’ve heard that if you’ve been popular in the U.K. any time, people will come out to your shows and support you no matter what. Electric Six has a loyal and rabid group of fans there, so we’re hoping to have some good shows and make an impact,” Duncan said.
When Valentine and the rest of Electric Six were planning the tour, they knew that Andy D would be the perfect addition.
“(Europeans) love real America, and that’s what Andy is. That’s why the Kings Of Leon got so big over there, because they seemed like real Americans. And they’re not even entertaining,” Valentine said. “Imagine how far Andy can go due to the fact that he’s real — and very entertaining.”